On this Bras Basah walking trail discover historic buildings, temples nestled among skyscrapers and street markets.
How to get to Bras Basah
Bras Basah is a central district nestled in between the Colonial District, Little India, Kampong Glam and Orchard Road. The walk starts from Bras Basah MRT station, on the Orange Circle Line. It’s also very near Bencoolen MRT station which is on the Blue Downtown Line. Alternatively, you could walk a little further from Dobby Ghaut on the Orange Circle, Purple North East and Red North-South Lines, or start the walk half way around from Bugis Station on the Green East-West and Blue Downtown Lines. For this walking trail, take exit E from Bras Basah or exit C from Bencoolen. There are also many bus stops in this area.
Tips for Bras Basah Walking Trail
- To shorten the route from 6km to 3km, you can easily return to the starting point from Stop 10, Chijmes.
- Several interesting areas surround Bras Basah and you can discover them on our other walking trails: Orchard Road, Fort Canning Park, Little India or Kampong Glam.
- Early mornings and late afternoons or evenings are good times to walk this trail as Bras Basah can get quite hot and busy in the middle of the day.
Attractions on the Bras Basah Walking Trail
On this walking trail through Bras Basah, you’ll see the main sites and attractions of Bras Basah:
- Singapore Art Museum
- Old Bungalows on Waterloo Street
- Stamford Arts Centre
- Sri Krishnan Temple
- Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
- Albert Street Markets
- Leang Seah Street
- Shophouses on Purvis Street
- Raffles Hotel
- National Library
- National Design Centre
- Albert Court Restaurants and Bars
- Mount Emily Park
- Niven Road
- Selegie Arts Centre
Bras Basah Walking Trail Route
This walking trail starts from Bras Basah MRT station. Try to take exit E or C and you’ll see the first stop.
1. Singapore Art Museum (closed until 2023)
The Singapore Art Museum (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*, closed for refurbishment until 2023) is by Bras Basah MRT station. This museum focuses on contemporary art from Southeast Asia. The collection is housed in a gorgeous colonial building that used to be a Catholic boys’ school, hence the religious overtones. Once reopened after refurbishment, this museum promises to be top class.
Directions: Head left around the Singapore Art Museum to walk along historic Waterloo Street.
2. Old Bungalows on Waterloo Street
On Waterloo Street you will see a synagogue (Maghain Aboth Synagogue), a church (Church of Saints Peter & Paul), a Hindu temple (Sri Krishnan Temple) and a Buddhist temple (Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple) all within 400 m of each other.
There are also several colourful old colonial bungalows, now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. Most of the bungalows were built in the late 1800s as homes for affluent families, though today they are used as headquarters of societies and arts foundations.
Just before Middle Road (the big, busy street), you’ll see a yellow building reminiscent of a church. Built in the 19th century, it used to be a Methodist Girls School and then a Methodist Church. Objectifs, a visual arts and photography society now uses this space.
Directions: From the road junction you can already see the next stop. Cross over the road to reach it – the entrance is on Waterloo Street.
3. Stamford Arts Centre
Stamford Arts Centre is an arts centre with free art exhibitions, a theatre, cinema, tourist information, a bar and a cafe all in a group of restored buildings.
Check online to see what events are on, or just admire the restored architecture of the building, a mix of art deco and neo-classical styles. It was built by the Japanese Club in the 1920s and first used as a Japanese school. The centre was renovated in 2017 and officially opened in 2019.
Directions: Continue along Waterloo Street, the next stop is shortly on the left.
History of Bras Basah
Bras Basah was the area picked by Sir Stamford Raffles for the European community to live and socialise in. Near the centre of town and the fancy colonial buildings, it was a convenient place to live for the many Europeans who worked for the government or as traders. Due to its central location, it was seen as a good place for schools and places of worship, with Waterloo Street containing many of these.
Today it’s a vibrant historic district, a centre of the arts between the core colonial area and the surrounding ethnic neighbourhoods. Towards Bugis Street shopping malls dominate, while shophouses can still be found in unexpected places between the gleaming, modern behemoths.
4. Sri Krishnan Temple
Sri Krishnan is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Initially no more than a banyan tree under which a statue of the god rested, this holy place has transformed over the years into the beautiful, colourful building you see today.
In keeping with the religious harmony of Singapore, Buddhists coming from the nearby Chinese temple (see below) also visit, and inside there’s a statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (aka Avalokiteshvara).
The gopuram (ornate entrance tower) depicts 10 reincarnations of Lord Vishnu (the blue one is Krishna) below the mystical bird Garuda, Vishnu’s mount.
Directions: Continue slightly further along Waterloo Street to the almost neighbouring next temple.
5. Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is a Chinese temple devoted to Guan Yin (Avalokiteshvara), the Goddess of Mercy and Shakyamuni (historical) Buddha. First constructed in 1884, but demolished and rebuilt in 1982, it has been a centre for Chinese worshippers for a long time. In the Second World War, people sheltered here for protection from the bombs.
In this temple people practice Kau Chim, or lottery poetry. Little divining sticks with writing on are placed into a can and shaken. The first stick to fall out is the answer to the question you were thinking about. Unusually, this temple also has English translations of the divinations if you want to have a go yourself.
Directions: Continue along Waterloo Street and you’ll soon meet a busy pedestrian street, Albert Street. Head to the right.
6. Albert Street Markets
During the daytime, every day of the week, there are many little stalls along this street selling everything from incense sticks to fruit and vegetables. Further down Albert Street you’ll reach a covered area, known as Bugis Street Mall. This section of the street has an outdoor bazaar vibe and there are shops selling clothes along with many snacks and drinks. Pop over to the small lane parallel and on the left to Albert Street to see a row of colourful spiral staircases.
Bugis district is named after the Bugis people from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Historically they were great seafarers, traders and pirates, plying the waters all over the Indonesian archipelago and beyond. Bugis district used to be on the edge of the ocean and sailors from all over the archipelago congregated here, especially those from the Bugis community, and the name has stuck ever since.
Continue across busy Victoria Street and you reach a slightly posher mall, Bugis Junction Mall. You can either walk through the pedestrian area or head inside the mall to your right and see some preserved shophouses lining the ‘streets’ of the mall.
Directions: Pass through Bugis Junction Mall and across North Bridge Road to reach Liang Seah Street.
Shoes for Paved Paths
The majority of hikes in Singapore are on paved paths, so your hiking shoes need good damping. For hikes that are entirely on pavement like this one, you may prefer to wear trainers with reasonable grip. We really like the fit and feel of Salomon shoes. Their running shoes give you plenty of damping on paved paths:
Salomon Men‘s Sonic 4 Balance Running Shoes on Amazon*.
Salomon Women‘s Sonic 4 Balance W Running Shoes on Amazon*.
Check out the complete list of hiking gear needed for Singapore:
7. Liang Seah Street
Restaurants and shophouses line this street. It becomes busy in the evenings, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a great place to have a bite to eat. You can see Suntec City Mall towering in the distance, a huge shopping centre with a cinema and many more restaurants.
Directions: At the end of the street turn right on Beach Road. Cross Middle Road and head right on Purvis Street.
8. Shophouses on Purvis Street
Ornate shophouses, complete with five-foot ways, line both sides of Purvis Street. Among the arches are several restaurants and cafes, both hipster and traditional, particularly famous for Hainanese dishes. This area used to be the centre of the Hainanese community, who migrated here beginning in the 19th century, and Purvis street used to be known as Hainan Second Street (with the two adjacent parallel streets being Hainan First and Hainan Third Street).
Directions: At the top of Purvis Street, turn left and you’ll almost immediately see the elegant facade of Raffles Hotel. Head to the inner courtyards or walk around the outside.
9. Raffles Hotel
Raffles Hotel (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) started off as a 10-room hotel occupying a bungalow by the beach. Today it’s still on Beach Road, but land reclamation means the sea is now over 2 km away. The main building opened at the turn of the century, in 1899, with the first electric lights in the whole of Singapore. After low points in the 1930s great depression and the 1970s, two subsequent renovations returned Raffles Hotel to its original splendour.
The many famous guests of Raffles include Charlie Chaplin, Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Neruda, Joseph Conrad, John Wayne, Liv Tyler and Michael Jackson. It’s even rumoured that Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book while staying here.
Another claim to fame for Raffles Hotel is as the birthplace of the famous Singapore Sling cocktail. Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender, created it here in 1915. Head to the Raffles Long Bar (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) for a pricey taste of the original.
You can go inside the Raffles courtyards to view the tranquil gardens, admire the architecture and check out the fancy stores and restaurants.
Directions: After seeing Raffles Hotel, cross over Bras Basah Road and you’ll see the white walls of Chijmes.
Chijmes (which stands for Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Middle Education School) is a historic complex that started out as a Catholic convent in 1852. Its focus today is a Gothic-style church, now used for concerts and weddings – the wedding scene from Crazy Rich Asians was filmed here. Around the church are many restaurants and bars, a pleasantly quiet square in the middle of the bustling city. The famous former Hotel Van Wijk (which features in the great murder mystery book Singapore Sapphire*, set in 1910) was located just next door on Stamford Road.
Directions: Just opposite the main entrance to Chijmes is the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.
Shortcut: If you are tired already, head to Bras Basah MRT station just 100 m further up the road.
Directions: To continue on the walking trail, head right on Victoria Street back towards the centre of Bras Basah district.
On the right-hand side of Victoria Street you’ll see Bras Basah Complex. This old school mall sells artsy items and is especially full of book shops.
Directions: Next to Bras Basah Complex is the National Library.
11. National Library
This very large library is free to go in and there are workspaces near the top with free WiFi if you need it. There are often interesting free exhibits to do with books or maps on one of the top floors. Take the elevators to see some of the architecture of the buildings. There are also mini exhibits in the outdoor open space at the base of the library. If you’re a Singaporean Citizen or PR you can create a library account and borrow books for free (long-term pass holders must pay roughly $40 per year).
Directions: Cross over Victoria Street to the church.
The Portuguese Mission built St Joseph’s Church, a Catholic church, in the early 1900s. It still has services in Latin today!
Directions: On the corner next to the church is the next stop.
12. National Design Centre
The National Design Centre (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*) hosts exhibitions, talks and events all focussed on design. It’s free to get in, open 9 am-9 pm and there are normally several small exhibits dotted around the centre. The centre itself is located in slightly ugly art-deco and post-modern buildings.
Directions: Head left on busy Middle Road, past the little yellow church, and then right on Bencoolen Street.
On Bencoolen Street you’ll pass 50年 Eat Fresh, Eat Soft Bakery on the right. This bakery sells delicious Portuguese egg tarts.
Directions: Continue past the bakery and immediately left on pedestrian Albert Street again.
On your left you’ll pass the fancy-looking Lasalle College of the Arts, a centre of arts and design for university students.
Directions: Keep going along the pedestrian street and you’ll end at the next stop.
13. Albert Court Restaurants and Bars
Albert Court is a courtyard at the end of the street with bars and restaurants, including a local brewery (Hospoda Microbrewery). It’s quite a nice place to sit because there are no cars nearby and the surrounding buildings are nice. The restaurants and bars are relatively affordable with many happy hour deals.
Directions: When there aren’t road works you can head straight through the arch to Selegie Road, else head right through a passageway around the corner. Cross Selegie Road and across to Mackenzie Road. Head left soon on Niven Road and the first right up a slight hill to a park.
14. Mount Emily Park
Mount Emily Park covers a hillslope and the top of a hill. There are broad grassy areas, large trees, views over the financial district and a playground at the top. It’s also a great place for a workout going up and down all the steps!
Directions: Head back down to Niven Road and turn right to walk along the street.
15. Niven Road
Pretty shophouses line Niven Road and some of them still have their original tiles. A Sikh temple called Khalsa Dharmak Sabha occupies the left-hand side of the road near the end of the street. On the corner to the right is Mount Sofia Flats, a landmark building from 1930. Today it contains Twenty Eight Cafe (Website, Tripadvisor Reviews*), an Italian cafe serving delicious coffee and great food. Open 07:30 – 17:00 weekdays, 08:00 – 17:00 weekends.
Directions: At the corner turn left and then right at the corner to follow Selegie Road. You’ll soon see the colourful Selegie Arts Centre on the left.
16. Selegie Arts Centre
Head up the pedestrian bridge across the road to get a better view of the arts centre. This building started life as part of a row of shophouses along Prinsep Street, built around 1900 and mostly demolished 100 years later. The corner building of the Selegie Arts Centre escaped demolition due to its unique shape and heritage value. It was refurbished and repainted to become the popular photo spot it is today. It even houses the Photographic Society of Singapore.
Prinsep Street Bars
If you look the other way from the bridge, you can see the bars on Prinsep Street. These are aimed at those who like to drink a lot and party. They come to life at nighttime and have fairly nice lights.
Directions: Head down the staircase on either side of the bridge and further along Selegie Road to the junction with Bras Basah Road.
There are several interesting buildings on this corner. On one side you’ll see the elegant blue front of Rendezvous Hotel. If you pop just inside you’ll find a courtyard with the building soaring up behind.
Opposite you’ll see the School of The Arts (SOTA) in an architecturally intriguing building. Just further up from the art school is the beautiful art deco Cathay Building, which houses a mall and a historic cinema.
This brings us to the end of the walking tour. To return to the beginning at Bras Basah MRT, walk 100 metres back down Bras Basah Road. Alternatively, head onward and Bras Basah Road will turn into Orchard Road, with its fancy shopping malls. Dhoby Ghaut MRT is also very nearby.
Bras Basah Walking Trail by Night
Walking this Bras Basah trail in the evening is definitely an option: the streets are bright and some of the buildings, such as Raffles Hotel and the temples, are nicely lit up. It’s also cooler in the evenings and you can soak in the bustling city centre vibe.
If you want to walk trails of the neighbouring historic districts, check out our nearby Orchard Road Walking Tour, Fort Canning Park, Little India Walking Trail or Kampong Glam Walking Trail articles.
FAQS – Bras Basah Walking Trail
Bras Basah is known today as a centre of the arts and a busy historic district between the core colonial area and the surrounding ethnic neighbourhoods.
Raffles Hotel is famous for being one the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Singapore, oozing with old-school charm. Since it opened in 1887 many famous guests have stayed there, including Charlie Chaplin and Queen Elizabeth II. The Singapore Sling cocktail was also invented here and is now served at the delightful Long Bar.
Bras Basah is surrounded by many MRT stations on different lines – Bras Basah MRT station is on the Orange Line, Bencoolen is on the Blue Line, Dobi Ghaut is on the Orange, Purple and Red Lines, and Bugis is on the Blue and Green lines. There are also many bus stops in the area.
Bras Besah, or Beras Basah, means ‘wet rice’ in Malay. A river used to run through the area and rice plantations thrived on the riverbanks. Another version of the story of how the area got its name is that rice was carted through this district from the boats to inland, leaving spilt rice to rot and decay on the streets, giving off the stench of wet rice.